Lightship 'Planet' sold for just £12,500

May 2017 - A corporate spasm of spite, that would be described as a fit of pique in an individual, has resulted in an historic lightship being sold for one eighth of its minimum value, with no guarantee it won't go for scrap, as Allan Richards reports.

Alan Robert's historic Mersey Bar light vessel, 'Planet', which was seized by Canal & River Trust last year, and, for reasons never explained, towed from Liverpool to Sharpness, has been sold for just £12,500.

The Trust advertised the ship for a quick sale inviting offers over £100,000 but has now told Mr Roberts that they have raised just one eighth of that figure.

C&RT blame adverse publicity caused by its removal of the light ship from its home port and disputed ownership for the inability to obtain a better price.

C&RT has also told Mr Roberts that the £12,500 sale price has been deducted from the amount he owes them and has provided him with a final account of the amount now claimed from him. The spreadsheet (see photo) shows that he now owes C&RT £43,576.49.

However, only £2,660.09 relates to outstanding berthing fees! (see the amount ringed in red). The rest relates to costs (over £40,000) resulting from seizing the ship, towing it from Canning Dock, Liverpool, to Sharpness and storing it pending sale.

Historic 'Planet', built in 1960, was the last manned light ship in the English Channel and on the Mersey Bar. It was purchased by Alan Roberts for £139,000 some years ago with a further £60,000 spent converting it to public use.

In recent years, it has been moored in Canning Dock East, Liverpool and has become a much-loved landmark due to its local associations.

However, in September last year. C&RT seized the vessel for unpaid mooring fees whilst simultaneously taking court action to recover those fees.

The sum claimed in court was paid together with costs as shown in C&RT's spreadsheet. As The Floater suggested back in said in January ( Planet police officer given no guidance on bailiffs ), C&RT's failure to seek an order under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1997 at the same time as they were taking legal action for debt, meant that potential purchasers did not have assurance that C&RT had the right to sell the ship.

Indeed, many believed that, removing the ship from Canning Dock for the purpose of selling it, was contrary to both the Torts Act and Mr Roberts berthing agreement.

It would seem C&RT's actions were taken with the intention of punishing Mr Roberts by increasing his debt needlessly.

Also, at face value, C&RT stood to make about £60,000 upwards profit from the sale which would not be returned to Alan Roberts. However, in the event, the negative publicity of removing this historical vessel from Liverpool has scuppered the Trust's plans.

Chief Executive, Richard Parry, attempted to justify C&RT's actions at the 12th Council Meeting held in Bath in late March.

Bizarrely, mention of the lightship was on a powerpoint slide entitled 'Boat Licence Enforcement' despite 'Planet' not needing a licence to moor in C&RT's dock. Whilst the slide admits to 'Planet' being seized in Liverpool, it does not mention it being towed to Sharpness.

The reasons given for seizure were 'Unpaid moorings and safety concerns' without explaining that the sum claimed in court was paid in full together with costs , ( photo - ringed in blue) and that the safety concerns were two reported incidents of people jumping into the dock from the ship.

The slide continues 'Future unresolved as yet' rather that 'Ship for sale at £100,000+'. It finishes 'Active local engagement' and, whilst C&RT has suggested that it would like the boat to return to Liverpool (rather than be cut up for scrap), its communication to Mr Roberts suggests that the buyer has given no such undertaking.

As to the scrap value of 'Planet', a 'Survey and Valuation' was carried out by marine company Braemar immediately after the seizure (C&RT wants Mr Roberts to pay the £3,355 cost of this as shown in the spreadsheet!). Braemar put the scrap value of the 'Planet' as £70,750.

To sum up, Alan Jones spent almost £200,000 buying and refurbishing 'Planet'. C&RT seized it and moved it from Liverpool to Sharpness incurring considerable unnecessary costs (this despite Mr Jones paying the amount claimed in court with costs).

The charity put in on the market at £100,000 plus which seems reasonable based on its scrap value of over £70,000. However, it sold it for £12,500 - one eighth of the minimum asking price and a fraction of its scrap value. ​

C&RT excuses this by saying the reason is negative publicity due to the ships connection with Liverpool and disputed ownership. However, it was C&RT's decision to seize the ship and move it. Furthermore, it was C&RT's decision not to ask for a court order allowing them to seize the ship.

Sadly, there is no agreement that the ship will return to Liverpool and no agreement that the new owner will not scrap it.

Photos: (1st) Alan Roberts watches as C&RT tow Planet away, (2nd) CRT spreadsheet, (3rd) Planet in Canning Dock East.

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